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On March 26, Bangladesh celebrated the 40th year of the declaration of independence when broke out between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. According to UNHCR, there are 300,000 Biharis in Bangladesh and more than half are languishing in refugee camps in Dhaka.

The Urdu-speaking Biharis are descendants of Muslim refugees who fled from India after the partition of 1947, fearing communal riots. During the Bangladesh’s war for independence some factions supported West Pakistan resulting in conflict and forceful deportation of thousands. But the rest remained and moved into camps set up by International Red Cross, where they continue to live.

In 1998, the Biharis were granted Bangladeshi citizenship. But most families still live in one-room houses in Mohmmadpur and Mirpur areas. They wait in long queues to collect water and use common bathrooms.

Many of the Biharis are engaged in weaving saris with bright colors and sequins.

A woman is making paper bags, another common job inside the camps.

Families keep goats and poultry to earn some extra income. But they are kept inside one-room dwellings because of lack of space.

Broken toilets, water logging, damp houses, unsafe drinking water are a few of the many problems the community faces daily.

A man wears the Bangladesh cricket team’s jersey. About 80 percent of the Biharis were born in Bangladesh and consider themselves as Bangladeshis.

The older generation still considers Pakistan to be their country. The Biharis speak Urdu while 98 percent of the population speaks Bangla, marking them as outsiders

Less than 5 percent of the population has formal education. Being stateless for so long they were denied voting and property rights, and had no access to education and health-care facilities.

Nine members, three generations live in a single room house.

The planes that were supposed to take them to Pakistan never arrived and community was left to grapple with statelessness for decades. But there is a lot of optimism that things will change slowly.

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About The Author(s)

Bijoyeta Das

Bijoyeta Das

Journalist, photographer

Bijoyeta Das is a journalist and photographer. She has reported from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Turkey and USA and holds a masters degree in Journalism from Northeastern University, Boston USA. Currently she is a fellow at the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability at Columbia University. Das was 2011 Peace Writer for the Women Peacemakers Program at the Institute for Peace and Justice, University of San Diego, USA and 2012 Summer Research Fellow at Metta Center for Nonviolence. Her work has been published in Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio France Internationale, Women News Network, Women’s eNews, WAMC Northeast Public Radio, Fotoevidence, and All India Radio. Her photo story “Dreams of a Goddess” won the Silver Medal at the TashkentAle-2010 photo festival, Uzbekistan. Her short documentary films “Branded Girls” and “The Saturday Mothers of Turkey” were official selections for the 2011 Women’s Voices Now Film Festival and were screened in the United States of America and the United Arab Emirates.

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